Haze Clouds State Policy on Distribution of Pot
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Haze Clouds State Policy on Distribution of Pot
Posted by CN Staff on September 26, 2010 at 05:42:25 PT
By L.L. Brasier, Free Press Staff Writer
Source: Detroit Free Press
Michigan -- With nearly 28,000 Michigan residents now registered as patient users, the state is proving a hot spot in the national debate on medical marijuana use.Battles are looming in courtrooms and soon, many experts say, in the Legislature. At issue: How to get marijuana -- which has proven medical benefits -- to the legitimate patients who need it?
Law enforcement contends some users and distributors are skirting the law by operating loosely run dispensaries and so-called compassion clubs, even though the law doesn't specifically allow such businesses.Medical marijuana advocates counter that the law doesn't disallow the dispensaries, either, and that the shops in storefronts and restaurants provide a safe place for suffering patients to get needed medicine."Running a dispensary in Michigan, under current law, is very risky, and I would advise against it," said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML).Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia also are grappling with how best to distribute the drug to those in need. Where Medical Marijuana FlourishesOn any given day, between 700 and 800 people visit Harborside Health Center, a low, sleek building in Oakland, Calif., that is filled with natural light, vases of flowers and soft music.They arrive -- some by bike or skateboard -- to purchase their medical marijuana, standing in line in front of eight glass display cases holding dozens of varieties of cannabis.The patients, whose ailments range from insomnia and anxiety to cancer and HIV, have their choice of fresh green marijuana buds with names like Hindu Skunk and White Rhino, prewrapped marijuana cigarettes, live plants, edibles, tinctures and lotions. It is the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the nation, generating $20 million in sales each year, and -- some say -- a model of how regulated medical marijuana can succeed."The message is you have to be as professional as the best retail stores, and you have to have a heart of gold," said the center's founder, Steven DeAngelo, a nationally known marijuana activist. Oakland officials are so pleased with the medical marijuana business in their community that the City Council voted 5-2 in July to authorize zoning to allow construction soon of four large indoor marijuana farms, each about the size of a football field.Like California, Michigan and 12 other states plus the District of Columbia now have in place laws that allow physicians to prescribe marijuana to their patients. Another eight states have legislation pending.Some states, including California and Maine, now mandate that the drug be dispensed only through nonprofit dispensaries licensed by state and local governments.The communities that many law enforcement and advocates say appear to be managing medical marijuana distribution the best -- where there are few raids, arrests or court challenges -- are those that closely regulate the way marijuana is distributed.Few appear to have it down as well as Oakland, Calif. Elsewhere, pot wars are breaking out mostly because communities can't decide how, when or where marijuana should be dispensed.In Michigan, more than a dozen people face charges of drug possession and trafficking following August raids in Oakland County. Others raids have occurred in Lapeer County, and there have been scattered arrests throughout the state. The arrests and seizures have prompted protests at area courthouses and calls for clearer legislation.Earlier this month, Michigan Appeals Judge Peter O'Connell, in a concurring opinion upholding a recent arrest, lamented the state law as "inartfully drafted," and confusing enough to put well-intentioned people at risk of prosecution."Pressure and confusion results from trying to operate under a system where no one has stepped forward and stated specifically what actions are legal and what actions are not," he wrote. The Major FlawBoth law enforcement and marijuana advocates say the major flaw in Michigan's 2008 law is a lack of direction on how, exactly, patients are supposed to get their marijuana. The law says patients with serious pain or illnesses like cancer or HIV may possess 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana or 12 plants. They may also contract with a licensed caregiver to provide the marijuana.That's where the problems begin. The caregivers, who are sometimes patients themselves, are allowed to provide marijuana to up to five patients. Sometimes there are households with numerous patients and caregivers, so technically, that household is allowed dozens of plants. In effect, it becomes a large-scale marijuana business. That marijuana is sometimes sold in so-called compassion clubs and dispensaries, even though the law does not address dispensaries at all.Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, (NORML) and perhaps the nation's best known marijuana advocate, said he fields calls weekly from people interested in getting into the marijuana business.Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, who launched the August raids on suppliers in Waterford and Ferndale, witnessed the protests that followed."They should be protesting in Lansing, not here," he said.Similar raids took place earlier this month in Nevada, which, like Michigan, has no provision in its law for dispensaries.In Colorado -- one of the most liberal when it comes to medical marijuana -- the Denver City Council is looking for ways to rein in hundreds of unregulated dispensaries.The dispensaries began springing up in 2009 -- the year U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the federal government would not pursue prosecutions in medical marijuana cases. Taking ChargeThe success of Harborside in Oakland, Calif. -- and the three others licensed to operate in that Bay Area city -- appears to rest in stringent licensing by state and local government.Until two years ago, Oakland -- like many communities in Michigan -- had no mechanisms in place to regulate dispensaries. There were 14 operating there, some of them essentially like drug houses.But California changed its law to require that dispensaries be nonprofit collectives. The City of Oakland went even further, requiring detailed floor plans, security systems and city-mandated audits. The city prohibited the dispensaries from locating near schools, recreation centers or drug treatment facilities.As nonprofits, the dispensaries have to plow the money back into the community. Harborside supports local charities and offers free massage therapy, yoga, riku acupuncture, gardening classes and stress management. There have been no raids, arrests or court challenges. The center has 54,000 patients on its registry as a collective."We are truly a nonprofit, community service organization with demonstrable benefits to the community," said Harborside's DeAngelo. He added that Harborside contracts with a lab to test all the marijuana it handles to ensure purity.Other states are monitoring the success. Maine recently passed a marijuana law, but has not yet licensed the six dispensaries it plans to allow. The first is expected to open in January.Like the ones in Oakland, the Maine dispensaries will be strictly monitored nonprofit agencies.The nonprofit New Maine Northeast Patients Group will oversee some of the dispensaries. Rebecca Dekeuster, the group's CEO, was lured to that job after managing a California dispensary.Dekeuster has studied medical marijuana laws nationwide."We think that cities that regulated early and really tackled the issue head on had more success than cities that either ignored it, or thought it would work itself out," she said. "What we find is that when they are operated as nonprofit community organizations, they can be good neighbors."What appears to be clear through all the smoky haze is that, despite a rocky start in places like Michigan, medical marijuana is not going away."It is a massive movement, and frankly, I don't think anyone doubts that we are winning it," said NORML's Stroup, a Washington, D.C., attorney who founded the organization in 1970. "I think our time has finally come. We've made more progress in the last five years than the last 30. I think it's because we've outlived our opponents." Michigan Law ConfusingMichigan, though, will likely continue to be a hot spot -- at least until something is done about the current law. The state House voted Thursday to send to Gov. Jennifer Granholm a bill banning the sale of K2, a synthetic form of dried herbs that mimics the high from marijuana and is currently sold over the counter statewide, often packaged as incense or potpourri. If signed by the governor as expected, the measure would go into effect Friday.Beyond that, however, there has been little movement so far in the Legislature toward reopening discussion about the state's medical marijuana law."We get calls every day from people who have been raided," said attorney Matthew Abel, whose Detroit law firm, Cannabis Counsel, specializes in pot cases."That's not going to change until somebody is willing to go to jail to fight it out."Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)Author:  L.L. Brasier, Free Press Staff WriterPublished: September 26, 2010Copyright: 2010 Detroit Free PressWebsite: letters freepress.comURL: Medical Marijuana Archives
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Comment #2 posted by runruff on September 26, 2010 at 07:43:49 PT
This is one of those "straw man" examples.
I will clear things up for those who are laboring under confusion:PROHIBITION IS ILLGAL IN A FREE SOCIETY!There that should clear things up, now we just get on with our lives.
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on September 26, 2010 at 06:02:43 PT
Related Article From The Detroit Free Press
Rx for Marijuana Creates Conflict for Patients, CopsSeptember 26, 2010URL:
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